While we were preparing for our Dominican vacation, I sent an email to our hotel, Iberostar Dominicana, and asked them if they would be able to assist us in visiting a local school to make some donations and visit with the kids.
Helpful Tip: ask the hotel or your travel group to organize the school visit. In the past, we were able to visit a school with one of the local vendors surrounding the hotel, but this is not ideal because you interrupt the student's school day with an unannounced visit.
We always take small gifts and donations with us when we travel to the Dominican Republic, so although I hadn't heard back from the hotel - we loaded up our bags with donations anyway, knowing that we would be able to leave them with our servers/housekeeping and they'd go to their families.
Helpful Tip: Along with a small monetary tip each day, we also leave candy, gum, washcloths, or perfume, etc for our housekeeper and/or servers while vacationing. After getting to know the staff all week, we find out who has kids, what ages.... Most of the servers at the hotel stay and work there for a week (or a few) at a time before being able to go home to see their families. So before we leave, we unload our luggage of anything that we don't need to take back with us to the States. Like diapers, beach toys, some clothes (ours and the kids'), sandals (that the kids will grow out of before next summer), lotions, baby snacks/food, etc and we leave them with the staff that we become friends with during our stay.
As we were checking into the hotel, I had a note on our welcome package that I was to meet with the head of hotel operations the second morning in the lobby. We met with her and discovered that she had received my email and was busy setting up our visit with a local woman who works with the communities as a tourist/local liaison.
We made our arrangements and decided that we would visit with the school on Wednesday. Our little group gathered up our supplies (pencils, crayons, coloring books, baseballs & gloves, plastic/play jewelry) and got ready to depart on Wednesday afternoon.
A local taxi picked us up and we headed over to a small community about a half hour away from the hotel where we were introduced to our local liaison. She was very sweet and told us that we were going to visit a disadvantaged neighborhood's bible study school.
We arrived at the school/church and we watched while the kids finished up their bible study lesson and then we were welcomed with a very enthusiastic welcome song by the kids. I had the chance to stand up and introduce our group and told the kids a little bit about where we were from. We played a quick game and then it was time to deliver our gifts.
Greyson was so happy to take on the job of main distributor of gifts. He buzzed around the room handing out crayons and pencils placing items in each of the kids' hands like it was a precious stone. The children all sat patiently for us to weave our way around the room unloading our bags with little surprises for them. Some of them immediately opened their candy and tossed it in their mouths. Some whispered out 'gracias' and others carefully tucked their gifts into their pockets with wide smiles.
We gave washcloths and slippers to the young mothers standing in the back holding babies just a few months (or weeks!) old. My Mom, Mom-in-law, and Aunt all stood in the corner reaching down to the bottoms of their bags searching for more candy and gifts - anything else they could find to hand out to the kids and families. We made sure that every kid got at least some candy and a crayon/pencil.
The baseballs were prized and the bible school teacher had the children answer questions (about us that I had mentioned like where we were from) to win those - since we only had a few. Brandon helped two kids with getting their gloves to slide on their hands just right and the kids beamed with delight smacking the ball into the center of the glove over and over.
Gemmi sat contented for almost ten minutes with a young girl who held and smiled at her calling her 'muneca' (doll). The girl had younger twin brothers who she reminded to be patient and sit still until it was their turn for a gift.
After we had given everything we had, we thanked the teacher for allowing us to visit her students and left her with earrings for herself and a monetary donation for the church. The kids sang us out the door and many of the little ones flashed us chocolate covered candy smiles.
It was a wonderful afternoon and I was so glad that we were able to get the trip organized. [Thank you to Iberostar Dominicana for making sure we had safe and reliable transportation and to our local liaison for facilitating and occasionally translating for our group when my Spanish faltered].
Our kids know that our family's number one rule is that we are kind and try our best. We also teach them that we take care of and watch out for our neighbors. And since we live in a global community, we know that everyone everywhere is a neighbor. Sometimes we make look different, and sound different, and have different things and experiences, and sometimes believe in different things. But under all that - we are ALL the same.